Since we make no secret about the rates we charge our clients and the rates we pay our team members, many times we are asked to explain the delta between the two. Now, for those unfamiliar with those rates (which you can find here), I don’t think those asking thing the difference is unreasonable. The conversation is more about justifying what is often mistaken as profit. In fact, the cost of labor, especially in states with strict definitions regarding contractors, can be stifling. And the indirect costs of labor can get so out of control, that many clients and contractors are overwhelmed by the challenges the average crewing company must face.
So we decided to publish an article the fully describes the cost of labor, from the direct costs such as payroll, payroll tax, benefits and insurance to indirect costs such as payroll processing, operating costs, invoice exceptions and time theft. The sections to follow will not only explain the rationale behind our rate system, but can be useful for companies requiring a contingent workforce to analyze their own investment into their workforce and determine if a staffing or crewing company is a better model for them to pursue.
Keep in mind, companies can have subtle differences in business model, have a higher tolerance for risk or work in states with less impactful regulations - but for the most part, this article is applicable to a broad range of employers in countless industries. This does not pertain strictly to the live event industry, but frankly, it applies to just about any industry and company requiring an employee - and in many cases applies to freelancers also.
why producers are so persistent?
I'm sure there's not one among us that hasn't been a few days late turning in an invoice. I get it. We live the Spartan life or long work days, late night load-outs, dead cellphone batteries, napping in cars, changing in bathrooms and scavenging kraft services for the last snickers bar. After all, we have to bring this rig in before midnight, load the truck, power nap on the bus and do this all over again 100 miles down the road.
And maybe you just want to get home early to wash your hair... whatever.
Regardless of why you're too busy to turn in your invoices on time, that procrastination has a real effect on the business people surrounding you - and ultimately that effect will cascade back on you. When you jeopardize someone's ability to run their own business effectively and efficiently, then they will simply elect not to work with you. And if enough people drop you, well then, you get the picture.
how do late invoices impact your clients
First, let's remind our freelance community that the guys cutting them the checks... that is the producers, gear houses, production companies, what have you... they are your clients. How some freelancers offer such horrible service, yet the labor coordinators receive so much grief, it's amazing. But back to the point, if you are like me, once upon a time I would think, "Damn, why are they so mad I haven't invoiced them yet - why are they so impatient about paying me. You'd think they'd be grateful, since they get to hold onto the money longer."
Well, actually that's not how it works. Fact is, until producers get all their invoices in, they can't prepare their final bill to the end-client. And the end-client will start their payment clocks upon receipt of that final invoice. So if we hold up final billing for a couple of weeks, it could be 2 months before the producer receives final payment and is able to pay out his vendors.
But that's not the only negative effect. Frankly, a producer will only wait so long for your invoice, because you're not the only vendor he has to pay. When we don't send him an invoice, thereby forcing him to invoice based on his best guess or estimation of what your final fee is, then if he's wrong and the client pays based on the wrong amount, you have less chance to getting paid the correct amount because the producer has less chance to modifying his number once it's started through the corporate accounts payable maze.
some useful tips
But again, I understand the challenges, because I live the life as well. But living the life alongside you, I also know, we're not ALWAYS that busy. There are plenty of times throughout your schedule when we're in Stand by moments. Here are some best practices to help you, help them, help you.
prepare in advance
Instead of waiting until the following morning or the end of the night, prepare the invoice during the last day of the call, perhaps during show or during lunch. That way, at the end of the night, all you really need to do is plug in the time out and you're ready to submit. It should only take you a couple minutes, so if you can't finish your invoice template during a working lunch, then you need a better invoice format.
send it out early
I know a tech that always sends his invoice on the morning of the load-out. His rationale is, we always know roughly how long the out is going to be, and if you're working against a mini, then you know the number of hours you'll get paid, regardless of the end time. So he prepares his invoice in the morning and sends it off long before the load-out starts. On the rare occasion that the times are longer than what he invoiced for, he makes the easy call to the producer or labor coordinators and simply say's "Disregard my last." The invoice is already formatted, so he updates and resubmits.
use accounting software
Using a simple, but powerful accounting package can dramatically improve your accuracy, efficiency and even your profitability and revenue opportunities. Some popular ones are Quickbooks and Fresh Books. But you can use most any package your familiar with. Just be consistent.
keep them simple
I've seen some crazy complex invoices that calculates all the variables, cross references against other records, collects, reinvests, looses... it can be a mess. One of the best things you can do for yourself is keep your invoice simple. For the most part, all the client needs is:
hire a service
If it's still too hard for you to get your invoices out on time, consider hiring a bookkeepiing business. They aren't that cheap, but I susect you're more than make up for the mean of his words. But better to pick up the guys without guns facing off with the guys with guns.
Long and short of it, if your clients have you set up as Net 5, Net 15 or even Net 30. That clock starts running the day you submit your invoice and it's accepted. It is really unfair to call 3 days after the show, having not even sent or confirmed your hours worked and start demanding pay. I really hope this helps you understand the issues behind invoicing - and look forward to seeing you on the campus soon.
The Real Cost of Circumventing
Written by @justdontcallmeeddie
Circumvention: No, it's NOT a tradition practiced on male infants NOR is it a witty name for an adult film convention.
Circumvention [Circumventing] is the act of bypassing your client and going direct to his end-client; and allowing that end-client to hire you directly, thereby "circumventing the individual or company that originally made the connection for you to begin with.
so what does that mean?
When a stagehand is introduced to the employer by a labor company, who then purposefully and deceptively solicits the employer, with the intention of soliciting jobs unknown to the labor company; or
When the employer or hiring company uses contact info provided by the labor company or solicits the stagehand directly, with the purposeful and deceitful intention of offering the stagehand to work as a freelancer without the labor company's knowledge,
We’ve noticed that this trend has grown recently and it actually has a negative impact for all stakeholders involved. We wanted to share a little insight about how and why this behavior has a long term negative influence.
so what's wrong with that?
It's widely accepted as unethical (although some companies see no malpractice). And certainly there are reasons to go around or go direct some times. But those legitimate reasons are specific and do not lend to the negative impact on morale or quality of service that direct circumvention can have - and I'm faced with two cases of it right now.
For the most part, the overall stagehand community, and the companies that hire crew through crewing companies, understand and respect the industry ethics surrounding their relationship with each other and their union brothers. Sadly, sometimes an innocent stagehand can be adversely affected if the hiring company puts pressure on them, while they are trying to be noble. The crewperson may actually run the risk of losing the client either way [thru the labor company and direct].
In short, it’s understood that stagehands are expected to protect the relationship between the end-client [the hiring company known as employers] and the stagehand's actual client [the labor company, labor broker or independent labor coordinator]. The end client is not the stagehands client to begin with.
still don't get it?
Imagine when we were kids, and we're all out on the playground, and you just happen to be an amazing friend that was generous ands selfless in giving. You liked to see your friends happy, so ever day you brought some brand new toy, never been touched, nothing broken off, everything perfect. And there was this one kid that every day, he would take the toy, push you down, and walk away laughing. But you being the amazing you that you are, keep bringing a new toy, every day, believing that he must have learned his lesson by now. He must see the folly of his ways now. This time, maybe he'll bring some of his toys, and we'll build a toy empire...
But every day is much like the last one. The new toy is stripped away, you are pushed to the ground, your friends won't help you out and instead just laugh at you while astonishingly enough, asking if they can play with your toys, but with the other kid. You think this sounds far fetched or not aligned. Well consider, just our company spent thousands on recruiting and double that on marketing last year. All that investment into marketing, the time, the resources, the money - and we earned the right to monetize them. So how fair is it if Jeff started hiring me just long enough for me to put on other hands, in essence, strangling myself. Just another story of a school yard bully.
Basic Safe Practices
I was working with some younglings last week, and it's part of my regular conversation, we spent a good amount of time on workplace safety. As I listed various practices, I spent a little time on "the why" behind the practice, and share examples of how a failure to follow procedure might result in an accident - or worse, a tragedy.
As I went through the most common, I started to realize how many of my examples were from accidents that I witnessed or affected someone I knew personally. Albeit, I've been doing this for a number of years, but I was still shocked at the number of accidents that I could personally speak to. At one point, I even stopped and said, "Damn, this job really can be dangerous." I say that to mean, as we go about our day, so much is process and procedure that we can take for granted the actual danger that surrounds us.
So I figured I would share some common, important best practices and safety protocols and the "why" behind them. This is for the new kids, of course. But also, as much for us vets that forget how dangerous the job can be - not only if we don't follow protocol, but if we fail to teach and correct those around us.
"Lift[gate] Coming In" [dock safety]
When loading or unloading a bobtail truck or any box with a lift gate, always call it when you start to move the lift gate. Loading and unloading can be fast paced, but mindless - and often filled with a number of conversations. A stagehand that's not paying attention can lose a toe under the gate or a finger in the chain or maybe take a rider to the side of the head because they don't realize the head, and hastily set load is now moving.
Although I've seen a few accidents, some more costly than other, the one that involved human injury is what were focused on here. So I'm reminded of a load-in where the truck's owner was screaming at his crew. As they unloaded the truck, he berated his guys, screaming obscenities and insulting them. I guess we know why the lift operator didn't call out that the lift was coming in - but it was and good ol' company owner didn't hear it over his own voice. In fact he didn't turn to face the load until the lift was inches from his feet, and caught off guard, he didn't jump back in time until he came down on his foot. He didn't finish the load-in,. His guys did, and at least it was quieter.
What to do, not do, pretend to do, expect doing again, and who to blame for doing it.
It's true, like most specialized trades, stagehands and stagecraft professionals have their own unique culture and etiquette associated. We've covered topics about vocabulary, style and even the perspective on the length of a work day. However, when we collect and present all the unique aspects of stagehand life, there is undeniably a code of ethics or general etiquette that we all kind of naturally follow. Those that resist don't seem to last long.
Some of the rules are unspoken and some are clear communicated. But in total, there exists a set of guidelines and principles that stagehands seem hold to. It's worth mentioning that stagehand norms and mores do differ according to geographic location and even age group. But we wanted to pull together a general list of expectations and etiquette for new recruits and even veteran review. Not all these instructions may apply to crews everywhere, but they are group of standards that will set most up for success if understood and practiced. We encourage our readers to comment and add perspective.
Determining Independent Contractor Compliance
It's alarming how few freelancers are aware that there is a mandate for employers to comply with strict, but loosely defined, rules when hiring freelance stagehands - identified as independent contractors. It's not surprising however, since even those employers, HR specialists, labor specialists and even the independent contractors themselves argue over their interpretation of the rules. The guidelines, applicable state and federal laws and regulatory and legal requirements are a constant topic among our team, and we want to open the conversation up to our entire community and ensure all our colleagues and clients are aware of the current guidelines.
There 20 factors used by the IRS to determine whether an employer has enough control over a worker for that worker to be classified as an employee, rather than a contractor. Though these rules are intended only as a guide - the IRS says the importance of each factor depends on the individual circumstances - they are helpful in determining whether our relationships demonstrates an employer-employee relationship. When the answer is “Yes” to the first four questions, you can typically satisfy compliance as an independent contractor; “Yes” to any of questions 5 through 20 means we will need to classify you as an employee, subject to backup withholding, among other requirements.
1. Profit or loss. Can the worker make a profit or suffer a loss as a result of the work, aside from the money earned from the project? (This should involve real economic risk-not just the risk of not getting paid.)
2. Investment. Does the worker have an investment in the equipment and facilities used to do the work? (The greater the investment, the more likely independent contractor status.)
3. Works for more than one firm. Does the person work for more than one company at a time? (This tends to indicate independent contractor status, but isn’t conclusive since employees can also work for more than one employer.)
4. Services offered to the general public. Does the worker offer services to the general public.
5. Instructions. Do you have the right to give the worker instructions about when, where, and how to work? (This shows control over the worker.)
6. Training. Do you train the worker to do the job in a particular way? (Independent contractors are already trained.)
Radio Do's & Dont's
DO keep chatter to a minimum. Carrying a radio is already distracting and it becomes annoying when you have to keep shifting your focus from the task in front of you to the comments on your radio.
DO hold (key) your talk button for a full second before you start to speak, otherwise we lose the first part of your sentence, which is usually who you are.
DO NOT change off your assigned channel without notifying your group that you're changing.
DO NOT use you radio to play jokes or have inappropriate conversations.
DO remember to return your radio to its charging station at the end of each day.
DO record the serial number of your assigned radio, in case you lose it or it gets accidentally swapped